Beginning March 12th, students and teachers at M-A will have the option to not wear their masks indoors while at school. Still, the District’s new mask guidance will “strongly recommend” that students continue to mask for an estimated 30 days or less, after which—depending on the state of COVID-19—the “strong recommendation” will turn into a mere “recommendation.” This guidance will likely entirely disappear by the end of the school year, to be replaced with the “optional” masking status.
Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) Trustees voted unanimously 5-0 on Wednesday, March 9th, to repeal the school mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in the District. This decision is aligned with the statewide verdict to terminate the universal masking requirement in K-12 settings on March 11th at 11:59 pm, and to strongly recommend wearing masks after this date, though still allowing Districts to keep their mask mandates if they choose.
According to the Board, this repeal of the mask mandate is in accordance with the California Department of Public Health’s assessment of improved statewide COVID-19 conditions, based on metrics like case and hospitalization rates. At M-A, there were six COVID-19 cases among students and staff last week, from February 28th to March 4th. Moreover, according to the Board’s “COVID Mitigation Update,” 85.77% of SUHSD students have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 87.21% of District staff are vaccinated, though the staff vaccination rate is higher at M-A, at 92.50%.
At the Board meeting, there were repeated remarks about “following the science,” which either side used to support their position. According to The New York Times, “Although masks reduce the chances of transmission in any individual encounter, Omicron is so contagious that it can overwhelm the individual effect.” The article compared wearing a mask to rolling a six-sided die: “Without a mask, you will get Covid if you roll a one or a two. With a mask, you will get Covid only if you roll a one.” However, since you must roll the die any time you enter a room of people, “either way, you’ll almost certainly get Covid.”
Though the Board has released its new mask guidance, it is unclear what a “strong recommendation” for student and staff masking means and how this recommendation will be enforced. The information the District has provided is from San Mateo County Health, which stated that under the “strongly recommended” status “people should continue to wear masks indoors. They don’t have to, but they should.”
At the Board meeting, Trustee Chris Thomspon said, “The other difficult implementation issue has to do with, ‘What does a strong recommendation mean?’ How is there not peer pressure to do one thing or another? We’re pushing that off to our schools. That’s probably the best place for it to be handled. I hope the Superintendent will report back to us on measures to protect the immunocompromised and some indication of what a strong recommendation means.”
The M-A Chronicle has contacted Board members and the superintendent for clarification on what a “strong recommendation” means.
Another point that remained unclear at Wednesday’s Board meeting was when schools will move down tiers of the mask guidance, from masks being “strongly recommended,” to “recommended,” and finally, “optional.” Elizabeth Chacón, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services at SUHSD, said, “I don’t have the information as to what would trigger the next step. I can look into that, and see if there is some specific data that would bring us down to the next level.”
For now, the Board has expressed that masks will most likely be “recommended” in April and “optional” sometime before the end of the school year. As masking rules loosen, M-A students worried about COVID-19 can access on-campus COVID-19 testing, open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm in the Performing Arts Center, or other testing sites at eight District schools near M-A. View details of these options here.